In Alabama high school athletics, February’s conclusion usually means basketball tournaments and the early stirrings of baseball, softball, soccer and outdoor track.
However in 2014, it also meant the end of the tenure of some of the area’s highest profile coaches.
The wave began with the announcement that Doug Goodwin had been dismissed as the head football coach of the Homewood Patriots after only three seasons. This firing was puzzling because Goodwin had posted a 23-10 record with the Patriots, won two region titles and had effectively returned Homewood to its longtime spot as one of the elite programs in Class 5A.
No real reason was given by the Patriot brass as to why Goodwin was released, and the coach himself seemed to be surprised by the action as well. The phrase “he wasn’t a good fit” was the most common cliché used by people close to the Homewood program when offering an explanation, although the meaning of that comment brings more questions than answers.
The story will have a happy ending. Goodwin has already landed on his feet, taking an administrative position with the athletic program at Auburn University. And Homewood certainly won’t have any trouble finding another quality football coach. But if I was interviewing for the Homewood job, I’d want to know exactly what was expected from me up front, both in the win column and off the field.
Another head-turning coaching change was the unexpected resignation of Larry Harbin as the head boys’ basketball coach at John Carroll Catholic. Harbin probably has the longest tenure of any basketball coach in Jefferson County–if not all of Alabama–with a distinguished career at multiple schools that began with the 1973-74 season. His stops included Berry and McAdory, and he coached the John Carroll girls’ team before taking over the boys’ program five years ago.
In his years at Berry, Harbin was a close friend and protégé of the late Bob Finley and closely resembled his former boss in his approach to high school athletics. Harbin wasn’t interested in self-promotion; his primary interest was in developing the young people under his leadership into better citizens through participation in sports.
“The main thing is that I just love working with the kids,” Harbin said when contacted last week. “That’s the part I will miss more than anything. For 40 years, this has been my life. I’m not really interested in doing anything else.”
Harbin didn’t rule out a return to coaching, if the “right opportunity” arose.
Just as is the case with Homewood and Goodwin, this story will have a happy ending. John Carroll will hire a quality coach, and Harbin will find another coaching job if he wants one. But somehow the Cavalier program won’t be quite the same without his influence and legacy.
Hail to the Champs
Tom Lovelady and Robbie Prater, former golf stars at Mountain Brook and Spain Park, respectively, had the thrill of a lifetime last week. Both are members of the University of Alabama men’s golf team.
The Crimson Tide, which won the 2013 NCAA championship, earned a tour of Washington, D.C. The trip included a visit to the U.S. Capitol and a White House meeting with President Barack Obama.
While the merits of Obama’s policies are subject to debate, Lovelady came away from Pennsylvania Avenue highly impressed with the president on a personal level.
“Whether you voted for him or not, he’s a really cool guy,” Lovelady said. “The president is a busy man, but he took a lot of time to visit with us and was interested in us.”
An avid golfer, Obama also asked the national champions for some friendly advice.
“The president said his bunker game had been really bad,” Lovelady said. “He had just gotten back from Florida where he had played a lot of golf and said his driving was good but he needed help with his short game. So we gave him a few tips.”
The White House visit also included a short tour of several rooms in the executive mansion and a surprise visit from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Mr. Kerry just happened to walk in while we were there and came by to say hello,” Lovelady said. “It was a memorable day all around.”
Just Like Old Times
Another pair of former Over the Mountain greats turned in big performances on the diamond this past weekend.
Former Spain Park baseball star Mikey White, now on the Alabama baseball team, started a rare triple play in the Crimson Tide’s 3-0 win over Kentucky. The play qualified for the highlight reel on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Former Hoover softball standout Marcy Harper, now an ace pitcher at Auburn University, pitched a five-inning no-hitter against Radford University. Harper’s victory also rated time on SportsCenter.